Posts Tagged ‘stigmatization’

Malaysian Home Minister: Human rights defenders are “wolves in sheep’s clothing”

August 21, 2017

Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has criticised human rights defenders today, accusing them of defending criminals instead. While launching his book on the Prevention of Crime Act (POCA) 1959 today, the deputy prime minister reportedly alleged critics of the law often masquerade as human rights defenders. “They defend crime syndicates. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing,” he was quoted saying by news portal Malaysiakini. “They claim to defend human rights, but in court, they defend criminals accused by the authorities.”
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has put forth a definition of human rights defenders, two days after the deputy prime minister called them “wolves in sheep’s clothing who protect criminals”. Suhakam chairman Razali Ismail said such individuals were people who work towards the realisation of rights and freedoms contained in the Federal Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments through non-violent means. “The efforts of human rights defenders contribute to positive societal change and play an important role in the establishment of the rule of law. “They certainly cannot be said to be defending crime syndicates and criminals,” he said in a statement today.

Source: Home Minister: Human rights defenders siding with criminals in court | Malaysia | Malay Mail Online

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/home-minister-human-rights-activists-defend-criminals#uREoQ0H4g4AhbZYU.99

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2017/08/17/suhakam-human-rights-defenders-do-not-protect-criminals/

EU Mechanism held first meeting: Human Rights Defenders are not criminals

December 2, 2016

On 29 November 2016  ‘ProtectDefenders.eu’ – the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism implemented by International Civil Society – concluded its first annual meeting of beneficiaries: human rights defenders at risk from all regions of the world who have benefited from the project gathered today in Brussels. The meeting aimed at reflecting on this first year of coordinated work to support defenders worldwide and at highlighting the worrying global phenomenon of criminalisation of human rights defenders.[see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/international-cooperative-consortium-protect-the-defenders-launched-on-2-december/]

To conclude the meeting, the twelve partner organisations of ProtectDefenders.eu have issued a public statement urging all national authorities to “publicly recognise the crucial role played by human rights defenders and protect them in all circumstances from any form of judicial harassment“. As stressed by Antoine Madelin, FIDH Director for International Advocacy and Chair of the Board of ProtectDefenders.eu, “Human Rights Defenders are the pillars of democracy and of the rule of law but are too often subjected to unfair criminal prosecution, in an effort to undermine their work in the defence of human rights.”

Since the launch of the project in October 2015, ProtectDefenders.eu has witnessed an increased criminalisation of defenders worldwide in reprisal to the conduct of legitimate human rights activities.

ProtectDefenders.eu held its meeting in Brussels under the motto “Defenders are not criminals” and brought together dozens of human rights defenders at risk supported by the EU mechanism during its first year of implementation, together with prominent representatives of NGOs, European institutions and Representatives of International and Regional Protection Mechanisms, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst. Participating defenders, coming from more than 20 countries such as Burundi, Honduras, Egypt, Bangladesh or the Russian Federation, shared their experiences of resilience in often dangerous and challenging situations and debated on the most effective strategies to counter criminalisation and pursue their work.

This meeting has also emphasised the main achievements and highlights of the first year of ProtectDefenders.eu. In the first twelve months, the EU Mechanism has provided more than 330 emergency grants to defenders at high risk, facilitating a rapid response to their legal, medical, security or emergency relocation needs in pressing circumstances. At the same time, ProtectDefenders.eu has successfully started and run a temporary relocation programme, disbursing more than 700,000 € in support of 74 temporary relocations in favour of 150 individuals, with the collaboration of host institutions worldwide and in the framework of the EU Temporary Relocation Platform.

The Project has also provided institutional and operational support to grassroots organisations, allocating more than 300,000 € through 32 grants. 1,300 defenders worldwide were trained to improve their security and protection in difficult contexts.

Finally, ProtectDefenders.eu has expanded its advocacy and outreach dimension, by conducting fact-finding missions and monitoring trials against defenders particularly in difficult countries, as well as carrying out initiatives to assist and connect isolated and vulnerable defenders throughout the world. ProtectDefenders.eu has coordinated more than 430 urgent alerts aimed at mobilizing the attention of concerned authorities, public and media on behalf of defenders at risk.

Human Rights defenders who attended the meeting positively assessed the first year of implementation of ProtectDefenders.eu. The twelve partners praised the EU strong support through the EIDHR of a project as ambitious and comprehensive as ProtectDefenders.eu. As pointed out by Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders and member of the Board of ProtectDefenders.eu, in the closing speech, “human rights defenders in danger around the world do benefit from this  strong coordination between international civil society organizations and the institutions of the European Union.”

[ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism, delivers emergency help and temporary relocation grants for activists at risk, who face threats due to their work and are in need of urgent support. It also provides training and capacity-building for human rights organisations. ProtectDefenders carries out monitoring, advocacy and lobbying to raise awareness about the situation of human rights defenders and their need for protection]

Source: Newsfeed – ProtectDefenders.eu

Uyghur human rights defender Dolksun Isa takes visa rejection by India in stride

May 13, 2016

Uyghur human rights defender and democracy activist Dolksun Isa is disappointed with India’s cancellation of his visa after issuing it. In an interview to Tehelka Correspondent Riyaz Wani on 12 May 2016, Isa says he is a strictly non-violent campaigner for Uyghur rights and China‘s attempt to label him a terrorist is to delegitimize the human rights work that he does to support the Uyghur community. Very much in one with the work of MEA 2016 nominee Ilham Tohti [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/breaking-news-final-nominees-2016-martin-ennals-award-tohti-zone-9-bloggers-razan-zaitouneh-annoucement/] Read the rest of this entry »

Statement on Human Rights Defenders that the Observatory would have delivered orally to the UN (if time had allowed)

March 4, 2016

Severe time restraints made that several NGOs could not make their oral statement on 4 March 2016 during the Interactive Dialogue with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the UN Human Rights Council [see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/preview-of-the-upcoming-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/].

Here follows the text of the statement that the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, would have delivered:

Read the rest of this entry »

UN Rapporteur calls on Hungary to not stigmatize human rights defenders

February 16, 2016

Human rights defenders in Hungary are increasingly working in a rather https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/attila-mraz-human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-have-their-work-cut-out/ and politicized environment,” said Michel Forst, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, at the end of his first visit to the country, according to the press release of the UN. Forst also criticized attempts to de-legitimize defenders and undermine their peaceful and legitimate activities through criminal defamation and excessive administrative and financial pressure, the press release added.

In the context of the refugee crisis and the excessively manipulated fear of the ‘other’ in society, defenders face public criticism by government officials, stigmatization in the media, unwarranted inspections and reduction of state funding,” the special rapporteur noted.

The drastic constitutional changes in Hungary have resulted in the weakened constitutional court and the centralization and tightening of government control over the judiciary, the media, religious organizations and other spheres of public life, directly or indirectly affecting human rights,” the press release cited him as saying in connection with Hungary.

During his nine-day visit, at the invitation of the Hungarian government, the expert met with state officials, members of the judiciary, the parliament, ombudsman as well as human rights defenders, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic community. Forst heard specific testimonies that defenders who criticize the Government or raise human rights concerns are quickly intimidated and portrayed as ‘political’ or ‘foreign agents’, according to the press release.

See also https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/attila-mraz-human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-have-their-work-cut-out/

Source: UN calls on Hungary to not stigmatize human rights defenders | The Budapest Business Journal on the web | bbj.hu

Michael Sfardjan: Israel’s Human Rights Activists Aren’t Traitors

January 5, 2016

Read the rest of this entry »

Attila Mraz: Human rights defenders in Hungary have their work cut out

December 23, 2015

Attila Mraz works for the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) on political participatory rights, while also completing a PhD in political theory focusing on the required conditions for a State to be qualified ‘democratic’. Talking with the International Service for Human Rights in the series Defenders Profiles (25 September 2015) about the reasons for his commitment to political participatory rights he said: ‘Democratic rights fascinate me because they are such an important feature of human life – we have to live together and solve certain problems despite having diverse perspectives. Political participatory rights provide necessary guarantees for equal and fair participation which facilitates the resolution of different societal views – that is what I care about.’

Read the rest of this entry »

Defender Profile of Will McCallum, Greenpeace UK

November 16, 2015

On 28 October 2015, the Monitor of the International Service for Human Rights carried an interview with human rights defender Will McCallum who is a ‘Campaigner’ at Greenpeace in the United Kingdom.

I would say that it is the tactics we use are what provoke a backlash from the Government as much as the issues we work on. In the UK if you make full use of the freedom of information system or judicial reviews, then you are probably going to have speak out publicly about the failures of government policies. This is what puts you in the firing line’.

And as Greenpeace and other environmental groups have highlighted the risks to environmental rights implied by UK energy and climate policies, they have found themselves targets of derogatory statements from both authorities and the media, questioning the motives of their work. The previous Environment Secretary labelled them ‘self-serving’,highly paid globe-trotters’ ‘focusing on the wrong issues and doing real harm while profiting handsomely’.

Yet Will says that this is actually emblematic of a broader governmental intolerance of civil society advocacy. ‘There is a general background noise from the government which is anti-NGO; there’s a sense of disrespect and there’s been a marked difference since 2012. It’s as if the government see questioning by civil society as a pain which ought to be kept in check. But dissent has its rightful place in a democracy and, in fact, we can help ensure the government makes policies which respect rights and protect the environment. There is a sense that in the UK the government would like to see the role of NGOs as one of simply service providers’.

This attitude has manifested itself not only in the governmental discourse, but also in legislation limiting NGO activities. Will points to the 2014 Lobbying Act, which put strong financial and administrative limitations on the advocacy work NGOs could do around election periods. A recent letter by 150 NGOs called for the law’s repeal, following a recent independent inquiry into its impact.‘At least as concerning for us, however, is the current review of the Freedom of Information Act. Over 140 organisations spoke out last month in concern at apparent attempts to weaken the Act. The government has mandated a Commission to carry out the review, but almost all of its members are politicians and all have a track record of questioning the Act. Where’s the balance? Where’s the view of those of us who rely upon the Act to hold the government accountable?’

Will is concerned at suggestions that the Commission will recommend the implementation of fees for tribunal appeals against freedom of information decisions, currently free. ‘At Greenpeace we have a certain amount of resources we could invest in such appeals. But what’s the impact for smaller organisations and grass-roots human rights defenders? They rely on this Act to demand better from the State’. A lack of transparency and of proper consultation are two obstacles which make it difficult for organisations and communities to question the environmental impact of business projects, says Will. ‘On the one hand, there is a failure by the government to be transparent regarding who they are being lobbied by and how; there is no effective lobbying register. Yet on the other hand there is a reluctance on the part of the State to listen to those communities and activists who are asking for an environmental perspective to be taken into account. The government wants to expedite business projects at all costs, as shown by a recent change to planning guidance which will allow central government to circumvent local authorities in the approval of fracking projects if the latter has taken more than 16 weeks to evaluate a project proposal’.

In an echo of a disturbing global trend, another fear amongst environmental rights organisations in the UK, is the possible use of counter-terror and surveillance legislation to limit their activism… ‘The government has said that the Extremism Bill is to tackle what falls below the legal threshold for terrorist proscription. There needs to be a clear articulation of what this means to ensure the law cannot be abused. Meanwhile, the Policing and Criminal Justice Bill provides for 90-day pre-trail detention. Any law which gives authorities who are relatively intolerant to dissent the power to lock people up before they’ve been judged must be subject to proper consultation of local civil society and international human rights experts before it is passed’. It will also fall upon this government to make guarantees of no-repetition in the cases of police spying and surveillance of environmental groups which have led to a public inquiry into undercover policing…

Source: Defender Profile: Will McCallum, United Kingdom | ISHR

No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and HRDs

November 11, 2015

On 19 October Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, wrote a piece for the Monitor of the ISHR under the title “No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and human rights defenders”Read the rest of this entry »

Woman human rights defender Mary Jane Real from the Philippines

May 14, 2015

As part of the series “THE WOMEN WHO DEFEND HUMAN RIGHTS”, published by Protection International, here is Mary Jane Real from the Philippines:

DSC_0060 - Copy

PI: Can you tell us a bit about how you have become a woman human rights defender?

MJR: I´ve been active in defense of human rights and women´s rights since I was a student… Around 2005, I started working with women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and became familiar with the term. At the time, Hina Jilani [former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders] helped to create the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) of which I became the coordinator. That’s how I formally transitioned into a WHRD. You can call yourself any name, but I personally find it strategic to call myself a human rights defender. Rather than talk about human rights in relation to people you advocate for or the communities you work with, the term ‘defender’ acknowledges that as an activist you also have rights that you can claim and assert for. I believe that’s critical, especially in the face of political repression and other challenges that are faced by defenders.

PI: What is the added value of having the word ‘woman’ in the term ‘woman human rights defender’?

MJR: I think, for myself, it’s important to claim that label. Gender inequality is structural and therefore, even within the human rights movement, you cannot take it for granted that women’s rights are already implicated in the term ‘human rights defender.’

One major challenge for WHRDs is dealing with lack of recognition. Even if women hold leadership positions, they still struggle to be acknowledged in the public space as critical actors. Linked to this lack of recognition is the issue of the protection that you need to do your work. To be acknowledged as a defender implies that you deserve protection and support. Unless a woman defender is recognised as a legitimate activist and defender of human rights, protection and support will always be one step remote from the risks that she faces. So, to add the word ‘woman’ to the term ‘woman human rights defender’ helps to ensure that protection of and support for women human rights defenders is in place.

PI: What are the main challenges that you and other women human rights defenders from the Philippines have to deal with? 

MJR: The Philippines is still a predominantly Catholic country with a government that is towing the line of the Catholic Church. One of the main issues that women human rights defenders are working on in the country is the issue of reproductive rights. If a country would value reproductive rights as part of women’s rights, there would not be a pressing need for WHRDs to work on the issue. However, today we still see stigmatisation and defamation (for example, publicly calling these women bad mothers and many other defamatory labels to try to ruin their reputation) as two common violations of the rights of WHRDs in the Philippines due to resistance from the Catholic Church.

I have noticed that the level of threats received by women defenders in the Philippines is not as high in, say, Latin America. The risks might not be as alarming as being arrested or getting killed. As a consequence, the public doesn’t realise that what happens in the Philippines are actually human rights violations and that the issue needs to be addressed.

LM: How should this issue be addressed? 

MJR: Well, one consideration in addressing the violations of the rights of women defenders should be the psychological implications. The psychological impact of these violations are not picked up in any of the urgent appeals or other documentation. Yet, if you talk to these women, they often talk about being burned out, about desperately trying to see family, about their struggle to balance their personal life and their wish to defend their rights. These psychological implications are not addressed at all.

PI: What would different forms of protection include?

MJR: Firstly, we cannot say that one can only be a human rights defender when they’re at risk. Secondly, when we respond to their risk, when can’t just focus on physical forms of risks and threats. The psychological aspects have just as much of an impact on the defenders and we need to respond to this aspect as well.

I think a better form of protection would look at all these different aspects of risks, physical and psychological, reactive and preventive, and protection for the short and the long term. For many of the women defenders, this also means protection for their families. In their case, often they’re expected to take care of the children.

PI: Do you think there is a role for the government in protection of women human rights defenders? Through a public policy, for example? 

MJR: Definitely, but I also think there is still a long way to go before we get there, particularly in Southeast Asia. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is more focused on promotion of human rights than on protection of human rights. This translates into a policy of non-intervention among member states.

It is therefore not surprising that the AICHR has not issued any statement on human rights issues involving states and that they have been reluctant in developing protection and redress mechanisms for human rights violations. As an intergovernmental body, AICHR reflects the human rights culture of the governments in Southeast Asia. That culture is not yet as robust and vibrant as in countries in Europe. There is an important role for civil society to advocate for governments to make protection part of state accountability.

PI: Is there anything that you would like to see changed for the next generation defenders?

MJR: I wouldn’t want the next generation to experience the same level of inequality that I have experienced in my lifetime, and my mother has experienced in her lifetime. I don’t want them to inherit those forms of discrimination and be apologetic about the fact that they are women defending human rights. I want them to be proud of the fact that they defend human rights and claim that space as a woman human rights defender.

The Women Who Defend Human Rights – Mary Jane RealProtection International.